Portugal Update: Rhythm of Farm Felt Miles Away
This is one in a series of posts on my visit to Portugal and 10-day volunteer work experience at Cimo de Vila, a 30-acre organic farm in northern Portugal.
It’s 10:00 a.m. in New York City, but I’m still on European time. Since I returned Sunday from Cimo de Vila, the 30-acre organic farm in northern Portugal where I spent 10 days, I haven’t yet reset my watch.
It’s 3:00 p.m. at the farm and I can guess with a reasonable degree of certainty what’s happening there at this very moment. The five volunteer farmers — the “woofers” who I left behind — two Germans, two Americans and one Australian — have done their morning chores. They’ve fed the chickens and the dogs and escorted Rusa, the mare, and her colt, Big, from the stable to a lush spot on a hillside. Two or three volunteers spent a few hours cutting lavender in the greenhouse or outdoors. The others helped Filipe, one of the two farm co-owners, move the herd of long-horned cows to new grazing grounds higher up on the mountain.
What are the volunteers doing now? They’re probably putting the finishing touches on the garden they cleared, a wide space leading up to one of the chicken coops and the stable. The volunteers spent several days before I left clearing the land of brush, building a trellis for large rose bushes, and adding stones, clay, wood and other materials to the steps running up the path outside the main house.
The Rebel Five — five teenage girls interning at the farm from a local high school — are back from lunch. They’re probably gathered around a table cutting lavender flowers from their stems. The flowers will either be dried or distilled in an old-fashioned, very simple wood-burning still known in Portuguese as an “Al Ambiq.”
It’s mid-afternoon, but there’s still much to do before the day is over. Rusa and Big need to be taken into the stable, usually around 7:30 p.m. Eggs need to be collected from the coops and the plants in the greenhouse and outdoor vegetable beds watered, also around that time. There’s an additional job too if the lavender cut today is distilled: a WWOOFER or two will need to guard the “Al Ambiq” to make sure that the fire underneath it keeps burning.
There’s a rhythm and cadence to work and life on a farm that is absent from most jobs almost anywhere else. Even now, thousands of miles away in the comfort of my New York City apartment, I feel connected to Cimo de Vila.
I look at my watch still on Portuguese time. I’m not ready to readjust it, at least not yet.
Over the next two weeks, I’ll be sharing my experiences and thoughts about the farm, interspersed with blog posts about food and farming closer to home here in New York City. Stay tuned!
Caption for photo above: One of 14 long-horned cows at Cimo de Vila (Top of the Town) Farm in northern Portugal.